In which we learn that I am essentially cancer free(!), & other updates [+Video]

June 23, 2012 · 34 comments

After a grueling four months of chemotherapy treatment it all came down to yesterday’s meeting with our oncologist to discuss the results of my latest PET scan. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

The latest video update is below, and this one’s a doozy, filmed on Nate’s documentary camera.1 If you’re unable to see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.

If you don’t mind, please be sure to “like” the video by clicking the thumbs-up while it’s paused. Thanks!

So, what next?

About midway through my treatment and again yesterday, our oncologist walked us through the possible treatment options by showing us a Hodgkin lymphoma treatment flowchart, which you can see below (you can click the image to enlarge it).

Hodgkin lymphoma treatment flowchart

After an initial four cycles (eight treatments) of ABVD chemotherapy, there are two options for a person displaying a “complete response” (“CR” on the chart), as presented at the top of the chart: Two more cycles of chemotherapy followed by radiation (“IFRT” on the chart), or moving straight to radiation therapy. I, thank God, will be foregoing more chemo and moving straight into radiation. The justification for doing so was summed up by our oncologist thusly:

  • According to the oncologist, I have had a “rougher time than most” dealing with this particular chemotherapy regimen. Some people “breeze through it” (I’m not really sure how that’s possible or what it would look like), but clearly I have not.
  • The longer that a person endures chemotherapy treatment, the higher the likelihood that complications may arise in the future. Things like the return of different, more agressive forms of cancer in the future. No thank you.

Libby and I will meet with our radiation oncologist for a consultation on July 5, and our hope is that I can postpone radiation for a few weeks until after traveling to New Orleans with high schoolers and adults from our church for the National Youth Gathering. At our initial consult with the radiation oncologist on February 24, we were told a) that my radiation regimen would likely be five consecutive weeks of five-days-a-week treatments and b) that it would be possible to hold off on radiation until after the New Orleans trip.

So if the PET scan revealed a “complete recovery,” why the need for radiation? (I’m sure my dad wasn’t the only one with this question.) Chemotherapy and radiation are two different ways of attacking tumor cells. Chemo is a drug therapy that works via the blood, while radiation is an energy aimed directly at the tumor cells. Because I had a “bulky mass” in my chest, they want to be sure that they are eradicating 100% of the disease, and so radiation will be used in conjunction with chemo. That’s why the title of this post says “essentially” cancer free — the PET scan revealed no disease, but who knows how many stray cancer cells are traipsing through my body.

Recovery

The CBC I had done yesterday showed my highest white blood cell count in several months: 2,300 (the normal range is between 4,000 and 11,000). Two weeks prior it was at 1,600, the lowest number of my entire treatment. Over the next few weeks, as the chemotherapy drugs continue to wear off, my white blood cell count will continue to climb, and my body will continue to heal. This is great news in general, but also specifically for my anal fissures, which wound up becoming — by far — the worst side effect I experienced.2 More white blood cells = more ability for my body to heal itself. Every day a little healthier.

Moving forward

We’re not out of the woods just yet. Radiation isn’t exactly a walk in the park (so I’m told), but there’s no way it can be worse than chemo. Even after radiation is finished, I will continue to be a cancer patient: I’ll have frequent follow-ups with my oncologist, occasional CT scans, etc. for months and years to come.

Additionally, I’ll continue to post updates and video blogs here throughout the next several months, but they may be less frequent (especially in July). I’ll be learning alongside all of you about radiation and its side effects, and it will surely feature prominently in the documentary as well.

I don’t even know how to begin thanking everyone for their love, support, prayers, and encouragement through this process. It was and continues to be an immeasurable source of strength for both Libby and I. Thank you. And speaking of Libby, what an utter gift from God she has been. I am beyond blessed to have such a caring, supportive, selfless, beautiful, and hilarious woman by my side.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Let’s do this.

UPDATE: We’re working on a feature-length documentary about my cancer journey and recovery, titled Let’s Do This: Facing Hodgkin Lymphoma. Read about the documentary here and “like” the page on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the film’s progress.

  1. A huge “thank you” to Dr. Freeman for allowing Nate to film this appointment. It will undoubtedly make the documentary far more powerful than it would have been otherwise. []
  2. In fact, I had to take a break from writing this blog post to go to the bathroom and then immediately take an epsom salt bath. Ugh. []
  • Sophie

    Hi Jake, I have just read a little of your story and watched your latest vid on one of the main new sites here in Australia. Congratulations on the good news and all the best moving forward with the radiation treatment. I wish you, Libby and your loved ones much future happiness and health. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    Sophie

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      Thanks for your encouraging comment, Sophie!

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  • http://adammclane.com Adam McLane

    Best news. So excited for you. And I can’t wait to see how God uses this doc.

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      Thanks, Adam. Me too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=617380225 Paul Amlin

    Couldn’t be happier for you both! Remember to give yourself permission to rest (a LOT). Radiation will zap your energy and have other effects on your body. Post treatment you can easily expect it to take a year or two for your body to recover in terms of its physical nature and in terms of your own endurance and mental attitude about the evicted the cancer. Prayers continue, Jake. Peace be yours.

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      Thanks, Paul… I’m a bit nervous to see how my body reacts to the radiation, but excited to be done with chemo!

  • http://www.facebook.com/corrieoh Corrie O’Hara

    Congrats Jake! I am SO happy for you! I am also a HL survivor- stage III. Reading your posts reminded me of my experience…. I am still cancer-free 8 years later. I can’t wait for you to get your official “Club Remission” notification :) Good luck with your radiation treatments and I wish you and Libby continued health and happiness!!

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      Thanks! Congrats to you too.. so good to hear.

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  • Fyn

    I saw your video on BuzzFeed. I am a nurse, and worked on a cancer floor. I had tears in my eyes as you received the good news. I will keep you in my prayers (if you don’t mind) as you tackle the next challenge of radiation. Stay strong, healthy, and off good heart.

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      @ddad6d096a05329310f4d65966d3b9b0:disqus I would love to be kept in your prayers, thank you. Thanks for your encouragement as well… My wife and I are so thankful for all of the nurses who have helped us along the way. I’m sure you’re no exception!

  • http://www.facebook.com/holly.hicks.1848 Holly Hicks

    I have Lymphoma and am heading into my last chemo treatment this week. Like you, I didn’t “breeze through it” and it’s been brutal. Tears of happiness for your wonderful news.

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      Good luck, Holly… Are you scheduled for a PET scan after treatment? What stage are/were you at?

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  • slipmahoney54

    congrats I am 12 yr cancer free hodgkins survivor 4 shots chemo an 21 radiation good luck

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      That’s fantastic! Thank you!

  • Jenn

    Best of news! I recently finished up with chemo for HL, and just had my three month post check up with all being good! A friend just linked me to your blog on FB, so I will keep on reading to find out more of your story. Had to throw out a congrats tho before continuing on.

    What can I say, other than, Suck it Cancer.

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-sRB85oZuwek/TyoyvNvOrJI/AAAAAAAAAoM/UImC8OivYE0/s1600/IMG_4922.JPG

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      Thanks, @c15c547a65ffb46dacc93c269ffdb4a2:disqus! Glad to hear you’re on the path back to recovery.

      And yes, cancer can suck it!

  • Cara W

    Congrats!!!! I finished chemo in December and still am doing very well. I hope to get my port out next month! I know how great of a feeling you must have felt that day. Every day I smile when I think about how far I have come, and I know you will too! I hope radiation goes well. Luckily I was good after 6 cycles (no bulky disease, but my onc didn’t want to radiate and risk breast cancer.) Again, congrats!! I also have a blog from my “travels” if you are interested! http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/carawoodward

  • M3

    Just caught this blog from a yahoo article. Congratulations on winning the fight. The war is always ongoing, but i wish you good health and longevity for the battles already won!

    • Nick

      Jake, I too survived 9 months of chemo after a 4B stage of NHL. I’ve been in remission since June 09. I’m working at it one day at a time! Stay positive my friend!!!

  • Trevor Peck

    Hey Jake,

    Just watched your vid as it popped up on news page. Always good to see good news – there’s enough bad out there. I will begin to hold you and Libby in my prayers. Thanking God for His gracious gift to you both. May Christ be glorified in and through you both! God is good bro!

    Love in the Truth,
    Trevor

  • lori larson

    Jake, I too went through 6 rounds of grueling therapy for non-hodgkins last year. I kept getting pain in my hip for over a year and they kept saying it was arthritis. Finally an xray confirmed it was broken even though I never fell. I was 54 at the time and they couldn’t understand why my hip was broken. When they went in to replace they found I had 2 forms of stage4 lymphoma. One very aggresive and the other indolent but it was rearing it’s ugly head right now. I have several other major health problems, including 3 bad heart valves, liver disease etc……..and they were concerned if I could handle the intense chemo I would need to go through. The last 2 rounds I almost didn’t make it but God has other plans for me. I am clear one year now and thank God for each day I have. I know it could come back especially since my staging was so bad but I have asked God not to take me one more day before I complete what He has for me to accomplish here. so thankful you are doing good. Lori Larson

  • RachTurner

    Watched your video thanks to LiveSTRONG. Congratulations!!! That is such great news! I loved watching that moment unfold. Thanks for sharing your story!

    http://www.rachturner.wordpress.com

  • Karen Cuciurean

    congratulations Jake, I’m just a viewer who watched your video blog on yahoo’s home page – that’s awesome! :)

  • http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com/ Tim Ghali

    I’ve been watching, clicking and praying – wow, so incredible – don’t know what to say. Thankful for loving support systems, medicine, the Lord’s goodness, technology … so incredible.

    • http://www.jakebouma.com Jake Bouma

      @tghali:disqus: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Carla Hinde

    shivers!!
    Our God is healer, awesome in power.
    I love that He is being glorified through your story.
    Thanks for letting the internet-scouting world witness your
    powerful story. Continued blessings to you and your wife!

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  • Cheryl

    Jake…my husband and I received the exact same news today at his post chemo PET/CT appt. We too praise God for the wonderful response to chemo! My hubs had 12 treatments (6 rounds) and at age 59 the doc recommends no radiation for him. His mediastinal mass measures about 7.5 x 7.5 in the beginning and is down to 8 mm. Everything else is gone. He was staged 2 B by our local onc and 2 A by the “expert” at Northwestern. Although he had a few night “sweats”, he never had anything near drenching. Now we wait and pray that the decision for us to forgo rads is the right one for us. We appreciate your blog and the encouragement you share as we both know the Lord as well….what a blessing as we face such trials! Blessings to both you and your sweet wife!

  • debbie cisneros

    Happy Happy Happy for you Jake ………Libby and you are such an inspiration
    God has great plans for you ..

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    So happy to hear this good news!